Get Your C-Suite to Care About Quality

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The technical details of building automation and implementing better application quality practices are not always the most difficult aspects of a DevOps and Quality Engineer’s job. Sometimes it’s more subjective, like getting the organization to actually care. An organization without a culture of quality is not going to be successful in having a sustainable quality strategy. Getting that culture active is not possible without executive buy-in.

GETTING INTO THE MINDSET

I’m sure that you have heard the terms “T-Shaped,” “Full-Stack,” and “Soft Skills.” They are usually used to mean that your core job is better satisfied when you gain aptitude in other areas such as infrastructure, technical blogging, or team communication.

We don’t always make the mental leap needed to understand that it also means educating your boss and your boss’s boss about why your role and expanding it is so important, however.

Classically, quality teams have not been the best at promoting the importance of their role. If your organization has embraced DevOps, then you are one major leap in the right direction, because development teams with the DevOps culture have generally also embraced shift-left, and so the teams understand the importance of quality. One down, one to go. If you are in an organization which has not adopted DevOps, then it might be a bit harder.

The key to getting buy-in is: at first, just try. If you do not put in the effort to make quality a priority for your organization, then don’t expect any change. Recruiting a team of quality stewards is a huge effort, but you do not have to go it alone. Just know that organic change will most likely only come with leadership change, catastrophic application failure, or huge market change: all rare events.

Once you have committed to putting in the effort, the second step is to adopt an executive mindset, and the third step is to know how to present it.

ADOPT AN EXECUTIVE MINDSET

Executives very often have tunnel vision when they think about priorities and spending money. They focus on:

  • Numbers: Clear, concrete, repeatable, and demonstrable numbers speak to executives more than concepts. This can be a little disheartening, especially when application quality is a very human thing at the end of the day, but the concrete elements of what quality means for the organization are going to be what makes an impact on leadership.
  • Competition: A powerful force with anything related to tech is Fear of Missing Out (FOMO). This is a relatively new motivator, but executives are increasingly realizing that they also need to be software companies in order to be competitive. The difference between high-performing applications and low-performing ones is dramatic and directly impacts brand reputation, customer retention, and conversion. A quality culture with test automation helps to get more functionality out the door, and more functionality means happier users.
  • Saving Money or Making Money: Executives want to know that a new focus or investment is going to either save money or make money. The challenge for any techie is to quantify what this means in the context of all the other things that come across their desk every day. The impact needs to be significant and clear: If we do X, we will get Y.

These can seem too black and white, but for companies who have not already built a culture of quality, there is a good chance that black and white is the starting point. Until the benefits are realized, it is more natural and easier to communicate value in other terms.

STRATEGIES

I wish I could tell you that all organizations are the same and all strategies will work for all executives, but that is not true. There are nuances for each industry, each company, and even each leader, so before outlining some strategies, know that strategy 0 is: “maybe this is not the right place for me to work.” If you are a skilled quality engineer, you can often find an organization that embraces the quality culture easier than making your current employer understand what a disaster they are in for without embracing it.

To obtain the numbers and estimate the impact of building better quality automation and culture, you will need to get some quick wins. This is very often something you can do directly with your team, or in a DevOps environment, you can bring the developers and DevOps engineers into the fold. It may be a quality skunkworks or something bigger.

Consider building out a simple functional test automation in an integration environment. As you do, you need to collect data and/or very clear examples of where the automation made a meaningful impact and how it was driven by a focus on quality.

Once you have something to demonstrate, evangelize! You have to share your wins. This can be the hardest part, but find peers in your development team (ideally leaders) who can help you spread the word about how you improved application quality for the long-term by treating it as something other than a safety net.

That is the short path from impact to influence, but you and your team should be continual proponents of quality to everyone you talk to in the organization. The way you do this is to highlight public and obvious wins that other organizations have attained by improved application quality. Talk about new tooling and the impact companies have seen. These conversations will permeate the entire organization, and emphasizing examples of similar companies who have adopted modern development practices and culture can help your boss carry the message up the chain for you.

PLANT YOUR FEET AND DIG IN

If you are reading this, then you must feel that: a) your organization has things that it can improve in terms of application quality (all organizations do), and b) you see hope. The importance of application quality and the ways in which you can improve it is not going to be clearly understood until the message is communicated throughout the organization and demonstrated with clear numbers tied to impact and value. This means that you need to plant your feet and dig in. You must be willing to promote quality in the organization and design your albeit-limited adoption in a way that you have something to show for it. You also need to know enough about organizations that you feel have already done a good job to explain not only why they are ahead of you, but also how they can surpass you by focusing on quality.


Chris Riley is a technologist who has spent 12 years helping organizations transition from traditional development practices to a modern set of culture, processes and tooling.


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